8th Sunday after Pentecost (July 22, 2012)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Jer. 23:1-6; Ps. 23; Eph. 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
It has been a week of transitions. We traveled to Palestine-Israel to say goodbye to staff and partners there. New MCC Jerusalem Reps will pick up responsibility for the Palestine-Israel program, August 1. In early 2013 we plan to pick up responsibility for MCC Syria program – along with ongoing leadership for MCC programs in Iran, Iraq and Jordan.
On Sunday we traveled from one end of the Gaza Strip to the other, enjoying visits with Culture and Free Thought Association (CFTA) and Al Najd. MCC Global Family partner CFTA focuses on activities and leadership training for youth. Al Najd also works with youth. Additionally, with assistance from the Food Resource Bank, Al Najd offers food security to Gazan families by helping them raise rabbits for consumption and sale.
Getting into Gaza is no small feat! It involves navigating Israel’s Erez terminal, walking through a half-mile-long caged corridor that traverses the Israeli-imposed buffer zone inside the Gaza Strip, and finally encountering the Hamas checkpoint at the northern end of Gaza.
On Monday and Tuesday, we said goodbye to MCC Palestinian and Israeli partners in Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Ramallah, then returned to Jordan.
Wednesday was a time of debriefing for three MCC SALT workers — Meredith Alexander, Sarah Thompson and Trish Elgersma — who completed their assignments in Palestine and Jordan this week and returned to the U.S. and Canada early Thursday morning. Brent Stutzman, an MCC service worker at the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf, also finished a three-year assignment this week in Jordan.
All the goodbyes give us a sense of sadness; but also of thankfulness for the honor of walking together with such great partners and staff.
On Saturday morning we spoke to a TourMagination group from the United States. They plan to visit sites in Jordan and Palestine-Israel during the next eight days.
In the region this week:
- Fighting intensified in Syria, creating a new wave of refugees to neighboring Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. UNHCR has already registered 34,500 Syrians in Jordan. The Jordanian government places the total number of Syrians in Jordan at around 140,000.
- Israel took the provocative step of creating its first university in a West Bank settlement, further solidifying the illegal resettlement of Israeli citizens on occupied territory.
The Common Lectionary readings this week describe the qualities of good leaders or shepherds.
In the Old Testament reading God denounces leaders who destroy, scatter and neglect the people (Jer. 23:1-2). God promises to “gather the remnant of my flock . . . (bringing) them back to their fold” (v.3), and to raise up new shepherds (v.4). Because of this, the people “shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing.” (v.5)
The familiar Psalm 23 describes the good shepherd who leads the sheep to green pastures, still waters and on right paths. (vv. 2-3). Because of the shepherd’s presence, the sheep will not fear – even in the darkest valleys and in the presence of their enemies (vv. 4-5).
In the Epistle reading the good shepherd breaks down the dividing walls between hostile groups – Jews and Gentiles — and “creates in himself one new humanity in place of the two.” (Eph. 2:15) Both groups have the same access to God and are full members of the household of God (vv. 18-19).
In the Gospel reading, out of compassion Jesus teaches and cares for the crowds because “they were like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mark 6:34)
The crisis in this region and in many places worldwide highlight the need for the kind of shepherd-leaders described in this week’s Lectionary reading – leaders who gather rather than scatter; leaders who promote human security rather than fan fears; leaders with compassion who ensure that the most vulnerable people have the basic necessities of life; and leaders who unify rather than create divisions. May God raise up such leaders for this time.